With all eyes focused on the playoffs, the league’s bottom tier has plenty of intrigue as well. What are the NBA Powerless Rankings heading into April?
One month ago, the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls were going to hang on for the playoffs. The Denver Nuggets had a solid lead on the field for the final Western Conference playoff spot – but the new-look New Orleans Pelicans were prime candidates to catch them. The Sacramento Kings had dropped to second in these Powerless Rankings.
As the calendar closes on March, however, the reality is that many things look much different than just one month ago. The Milwaukee Bucks are firmly in the playoffs, the Miami Heat have snuck in there, the Denver Nuggets are clinging to hopes, and the Detroit Pistons are in a freefall like few others. The Atlanta Hawks could lose a few more games and find themselves present in these ranking come mid-April.
For now, the following fourteen teams inhabit the lottery. These teams will head home to recuperate on April 12th, uninvolved in the competition to follow. These teams will have a chance – however small – to win a top-3 pick. These teams will look to turn around their fates this summer.
For now though, they simply represent the NBA Powerless Rankings.
14. Denver Nuggets (Last Month – unranked) – The Nuggets should be in the playoffs if measured by any metric but wins or defense. Since Nikola Jokic entered the starting lineup (without Jusuf Nurkic) in mid-December, the Nuggets have the best offense in the NBA, even better than the Golden State Warriors. But Denver has lost three straight games to drop behind the Portland Trail Blazers, and barring the unlikely they will pick in the lottery for yet another season.
13. New Orleans Pelicans (11th) – No team in the Powerless Rankings has a better player than Anthony Davis. No team in the Powerless Rankings has a better second player than DeMarcus Cousins. No team in the Powerless Rankings has a better third player than Jrue Holiday. How did this team fail to reach the playoffs?
12. Minnesota Timberwolves (8) – The Timberwolves made some playoff noise early in the month, but then a six-game swoon put the postseason out of reach. Nonetheless, they have shown flashes of what they will be next year when healthy and more prepared. Karl-Anthony Towns has been elite for weeks now, putting up numbers not seen in decades. And Ricky Rubio has taken multiple seasons of trade rumors and shoved them where the sun don’t shine.
11. Chicago Bulls (unranked) – No one wants to reward the Bulls, or shower them with accolades – especially not Chicago fans themselves. But the fact of the matter is that after the “TNT Bulls” struck against the Cavaliers, Chicago is right on the edge of the playoffs once again. Jimmy Butler is excellent, and if Nikola Mirotic continues hitting bomb after bomb, this team could claw its way back into the playoff picture.
10. Dallas Mavericks (10) – The Mavericks are not benefiting long-term from their climb up the standings over the past few months. But winning is more fun than losing, and Dallas knows it has legitimate pieces in Yogi Ferrell and Seth Curry. Dirk isn’t done yet, and the 2018 Mavericks will have an extra lottery pick to add into the mix around Nowitzki.
9. Charlotte Hornets (9) – If the Mavericks have been having fun the last few months, the Charlotte Hornets are experiencing the opposite season. Lofty expectations have crumbled behind abysmal bench play and frontcourt injuries. Kemba Walker has been excellent, but not even the hero of March can win games alone.
8. Detroit Pistons (unranked) – Detroit has experienced loss after loss by the skin of their teeth. For a team wishing to make the playoffs, that’s bad. For one that could use a shot at a top point guard, that’s very good. This team can’t go into next season with any confidence in Reggie Jackson or Ish Smith.
7. Sacramento Kings (2) – The Kings sold DeMarcus Cousins for pennies on the dollar. There is no excusing that. But the new energy this young roster is playing with is something they never had before. And Skal Labissiere may be the kind of big man they have never had before.
6. Philadelphia 76ers (5) – Joel Embiid is out for the year. Ben Simmons is too. Same for Jahlil Okafor and Robert Covington. This team is not going to win very many games the rest of the way, if any. But that plays well into one last grab at a premier talent before leaping up the standings next season. That leap will be helped by Dario Saric, a Rookie-of-the-Year frontrunner showing his stuff down the stretch.
5. Phoenix Suns (3) – The Suns have little chance at winning basketball games, fielding the youngest starting lineup not just in the league, but in NBA history. But Devin Booker dropped 70 points on the Boston Celtics and turned a morose locker room into a celebration. This team has no pressure to win now, and can instead focus on building chemistry and good habits.
4. New York Knicks (7) – The good news? There has been less bad media swirling around the Knicks in March than other recent months. Kristaps Porzingis is on the team. They play their home games in one of the world’s best basketball arenas. The bad news? This team has major holes and limited resources with which to fill them. And they give the Kings a run for their money in the “worst organization” category.
3. Orlando Magic (6) – Allowing Aaron Gordon to return to playing the 4 has opened up his game, and the young forward has responded by dunking on anything in sight. But the Magic have no other long-term pieces outside of Gordon, and are merely counting down the days until they fire their current front office.
2. Los Angeles Lakers (4) – The Lakers are really doing it; they are tanking like never before to try and retain their draft selection. That part is a success. The not-so-successful attributes include a lack of franchise stars, a sieve-like defense, and owners squabbling over their involvement in the house.
1. Brooklyn Nets (1) -The Brooklyn Nets have a legitimate rotation player in 2016 first-round pick Caris LeVert. Jeremy Lin, if healthy, drags this offense to at least functional. They won just as many games in the month of March as the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Any chance that distracted from the Nets having the least amount of talent of any roster in the league, and no rights to their draft picks until 2019? No? The Nets are locked into this spot for a long time.